A very painful lesson in the dangers of intolerance

I was married for 20 years. I have four sons, and until three years ago, we were Orthodox. Orthodox as in my boys wore “the uniform” — black pants and white shirt — had long payes and went to the most religious day school in our city. We would have been called ‘ultra-Orthodox’ by some media.

Five years ago, my husband of 20 years told me that he thought he was transgender. He said from the time he was young he had felt different, but had tried to become just like everyone else. He saw marriage and a family as a way to prove to himself and others that he was just like every other Jewish man.

The next two years were a real struggle for us, and finally the marriage broke apart. His depression and the anger he felt at his condition were taken out on me more and more often. I had nowhere to turn, either. After all, things like this don’t happen to Orthodox Jews.

I tried once to bring this up with a rabbi, who advised that I join a study group devoted to shmirat halashon (literally, “watching the tongue”) and try harder to keep from making my husband angry with me.

Three years ago, the marriage finally fell apart. I had to go through the humiliation of trying to convince a rabbinical court to help me with my get. I was forced to tell my story including the most intimate details of our life together. The first rabbi I spoke to told me that he could deal only with my husband. He also told me I needed counseling, because a normal woman would never make up lies like this about her husband.

Finally, I got my get, but sadly, a month later my husband committed suicide. That was horrifying, a painful time for my children and for me. A few days after the funeral, I discovered that in fact he was not transgender but gay. I talked with his partner, who told me I needed to be tested for HIV.

My husband had been so uncomfortable with his orientation that he’d assumed there was something terribly wrong with him because he was gay. The boys and I became pawns in his life of pain, anger and deception. Because he felt it was impossible to be an Orthodox Jew as well as a gay man, my life was placed in danger.

I have a friend who writes extensively about gay issues, and he calls the wives and children in such marriages “collateral damage” — we are the wounded in a war not of our own choosing.

After his death, the whole story came out in the community, and we were no longer accepted. Many people wouldn’t allow their children to play with or even speak to my boys at yeshiva, and so eventually we just dropped out of everything, from school to shul.

The attitudes of those like the Shas rabbis who are so quick to condemn gay and lesbian Jews literally are killing people. My marriage was miserable for the entire time we were married. Obviously my husband wasn’t happy, but felt that living with another man was not acceptable because of his religious beliefs.

I honestly believe that if being both gay and Jewish — or even more, to be gay and still frum — were acceptable, then women like me wouldn’t be victims of these kinds of marriages of convenience. I also believe that my husband would still be alive, as he was a victim of this mindset as well. My children would still have their father.

I am not a part of the gay community, but I am no longer a part of the Orthodox community, either. I just couldn’t stay after being told that my children were undesirable and that my husband was a pervert.

My sons are not gay, and having a gay parent did not make them change their orientation. However, my children are not much interested in being religious Jews any longer.

The violent and angry opposition to the presence of gay and lesbian Jews is not going to make those people change into straight men and women, but it will make them go away.

This issue has nothing at all to do with the war, nor had it anything to do with the other major religions in Jerusalem. It is a Jewish issue and it affects Jews of all backgrounds and observance levels.

I hope and pray that by stepping forward my words can convince at least one person not to take part in the terrible and senseless hatred currently being directed at fellow Jews.

Cindy Naas, the writer, lives in Israel. Her column first appeared on ynetnews.com